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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Nick Clegg on Israel/Gaza

On his Call Clegg radio phone-in show on LBC today, Nick Clegg (UK Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister) took a question on Israel and Gaza from 'Stephen in Croydon'; I agree with Mr Clegg's answer, and here is the Q&A:

S:         Oh hi, I've got a question for you, an interesting one. If the world was city, Israel finds itself in one of the toughest parts of town, surrounded by countries with little value for life.  If you were the Prime Minister of England, and there was a radicalised terrorist organisation that was now running Scotland or Wales, and they were firing up to 50 rockets every month into your country, would you accept the situation, or feel you had a responsibility to protect the citizens of your country?

NC:      Of course you've got a responsibility to protect the citizens of your country.  And, equally, you have an absolute need, a long term strategic need, to secure the safety of your fellow citizens, by seeking to entrench peace.  At the end of the day, we know, we all know that violence begets violence, and that the greatest security of all that can be provided to our fellow citizens, is to seek for people to live peacefully in co-existence.  But, of course, that means that people who seek to spread terror need to be confronted and combated, and every state has a right to protect its citizens from that.  But, equally, I think it means, certainly in the case of the Middle East, that in the long run, in the long run, however difficult it is, and boy is it difficult, there is no surrogate, there's no alternative to the safety that peace brings.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

The death of another young person

The tragic news that the body of a Palestinian teenager has been found near to Jerusalem is deeply saddening, following on so soon from the finding of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers. One can only begin to imagine the deep sadness of the families and friends of all four of these young people. Given that all four appear to have been murdered, I want to see the people responsible brought to justice as swiftly as possible.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Israel's critical Lib Dem friend

Very interested to see the Jewish Chronicle's coverage of a recent visit to Israel/Palestine by Laurence Brass: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/117732/board-deputies-treasurer-shocked%E2%80%99-visit-west-bank and http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/120089/envoys-support-laurence-brass-israel-criticism-row.

Laurence is a former Liberal candidate who, like me, used to be a Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (on whose committee I still sit, although I write here in a personal capacity) and is the Treasurer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, although this trip by Laurence to Israel/Palestine (organised by a British group called Yachad: http://yachad.org.uk/) was undertaken by Laurence in a personal capacity.

Israel's critics often say (sometimes disingenuously) : "We criticise Israel because, as friends of Israel, we wish to be candid friends and tell Israel when Israel is wrong - that is the act of a true friend." They also often say (again, sometimes disingenuously): "Why can Lib Dems who are friends of Israel not be critical friends who say something when Israel's got it wrong?"

And you could argue that this is precisely what Laurence has done, given what he says about a Palestinian schoolgirl being taken to hospital with head wounds after apparently being stoned by someone living in a nearby Israeli settlement, and what he says about a rusty car having been dumped in a Palestinian village well, in what Laurence considers to have been a deliberate attempt to disrupt the villagers' clean water supply.

As a friend of Israel, am I not allowed to be as disgusted by reports of such alleged actions as I would be by reports of English football hooligans abroad allegedly smashing windows and urinating on the beach? In either instance I would need to hear the facts before rushing to judgement, but would my disgust at the possibility of such behaviour by some Israeli or English people really make me anti-Israeli or anti-English?

Yes, I know that Israel's critics often stray into language that is antisemitic (unlike Israel's enemies, who don't need to stray into such language, as they are already there). I know that Israel's actions attract a massively disproportionate amount of critical attention in relation to other, far more serious things that happen elsewhere in the Middle East and the wider world, and I know that Israeli 'settlers' are demonised and de-humanised in such a way as to suggest that THEY are the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, when that conflict actually existed long before there even WERE any settlers, meaning that they can't be the conflict's root cause, that root cause actually being the Arab world's refusal to accept the existence of the State of Israel on any terms whatsoever - I know all of this, and have written about it here many times.

I also know that, given that Israel has no lack of harsh critics, it doesn't really need additional criticism from those people who are its best friends. I understand the arguments that diaspora Jewish communal leaders (of which the Treasurer of the Board of Deputies is a prime example) can express their reservations to the Israelis in private and ought not to add grist to the mill of Israel's critics in public.

And I know - and this is very important - that Israel does arrest and prosecute those of its citizens who act in the appalling way that Laurence describes, just as such people would be arrested over here: http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/.premium-1.572623?v=B42055F2F0744D1EDC31FD59351A2380.

But...What if Laurence had gone to the West Bank and not criticised Israel, but praised it? What if he had said: "I applaud Israel's rigorous prosecution of those Israelis who sometimes behave badly towards Palestinians" - would the same people who have booed Laurence for criticising Israel have booed him for saying that? I don't think that they necessarily would, and if Laurence's praising Israel would not have sparked allegations that he has failed to behave impartially, then why should such allegations be sparked by his criticising Israel? The blade surely cuts both ways.

What I assume to have happened (and it is only an assumption - I have not spoken to Laurence about this) is that Laurence, who I have known and liked for years, went with Yachad on a one-day trip to the West Bank (http://yachad.org.uk/get-involved/trips/) at a time when he was in Israel (perhaps on holiday) anyway. Having seen what he saw, he said what he said, because that's Laurence, and I'm not going to say that he was definitely wrong to say it. Perhaps it wouldn't work if every Anglo-Jewish leader expressed personal, critical opinions on every detail of Israeli policy all of the time, but I wonder if the world might not end if someone like Laurence does it every now and then.

I note also that, of the distinguished Israelis who have signed a letter (doubtless orchestrated by Yachad) in the Jewish Chronicle supporting Laurence, one (Alon Liel) was the main speaker at Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel's 2011 party conference fringe meeting (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/10/jeremy-browne-on-israelpalestine.html) and another (Naomi Chazan) had the same role in 2010 (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/06/liberal-voice-worth-listening-to.html).

Naomi, Alon, Yachad and perhaps even sometimes Laurence are to the left of where I often am (http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-israel-has-no-option-but-to-defend-itself-against-hamas-and-iran-10239.html), but that doesn't deter me from wanting to hear what they have to say. Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel deserves greater credit for centring its fringe meetings on pro-peace, liberal-left Israelis like Alon Liel and Naomi Chazan, and I'd love it if Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine would centre its fringe meetings on pro-peace, liberal-left Palestinians.

Jonathan Freedland wrote interestingly on such things at: http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/57850/this-israel-not-one-i-love.

(While I was completing this piece yesterday, the appalling news broke of the discovery of the bodies of the three missing Israeli teenagers, about whose kidnapping I had blogged previously. Obviously I condemn the brutal murder of these three young people, which I did not discuss in the piece above, as I had not known about it at the time of writing.)

Israel/Gaza/BBC: When is a response not a response?

"Israel launched more than 30 air strikes on the Gaza Strip overnight," says the BBC. "The strikes came in response to 18 rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza since Sunday night, the Israeli military said." Is it possible that what the BBC actually meant was: "According to the Israeli military, there have been 18 rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza since Sunday night. Israel launched more than 30 air strikes on the Gaza Strip overnight, in what its military called a response to the rocket attacks." If reporting on an incident and a response to that incident, would one not normally describe the incident first and the response second?